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French cyclist Kevin Reza is the first to admit that he is no superstar. And although he has won a bronze medal in the French national championships and has been selected to the French national team, Reza, who turned professional in 2012, knows that he is very much one of the sport’s journeymen. But he is also Black in what has historically been a very white sport. Over the years, Reza generally gives the sport high marks when it comes to racism. And even though he has been the victim of racial slurs on two occasions during races, he insists, “I don’t think that the majority of the peloton is racist…far from it!” But there is a certain disconnect with Reza’s own experience, and the racial injustice he is seeing around the world. And he is looking for a way to address such issues in a positive way as a modest but respected professional.
VeloNews: Kevin, we have spoken several times over the years and at times touched on the topic of racism. What is your feeling today as you see different events unfolding around the world, say with the case of George Floyd, and others?
Kevin Reza: Like many, I have followed events and learned things by [way of] the social platforms. And when I saw the video posted by LeBron James that really got me thinking. I didn’t understand everything, but I started researching things to understand what was really happening. And it was really disheartening because I understood that things were not really getting better. It is like we take one step forward and two steps back. The dramas just kept building but things are not getting any better. And on a personal level, I have been trying to find the best way to address the issue. As an athlete, should I be speaking out? Or should I stay in my corner and study the situation more? For the moment, that is what I have chosen to do.
VN: I looked back over our previous interviews and you actually gave professional cycling pretty high marks. Has your opinion changed or evolved?
KR: I was definitely positive, and tried to see the bright side of things. But when I see everything that is happening in the world, I understand I didn’t have a vision of the reality. A few years ago I thought that, despite occasional incidents of racism, we were on the right path. But today I understand that while things appeared to be getting better, in fact, they are not. The reality of what we are seeing in the streets is far from what I have seen myself in the world of cycling and you need to speak out.
VN: Kevin, you have spent your life in cycling at the highest level. You went to a sports-focused high school where you were allowed extra time to train. And from there, you went immediately into the amateur Vendee-U team that was essentially the farm club for the Europcar team, or Total-Direct Energie team today. And be it on Europcar, FDJ, or B&B Vital Concept, you have been on very open, very supportive teams. Do you think that, in a way, you were protected from a certain reality, cradled in the support system of your sport?
KR: Yeah, I think you are right. I was protected. I think that the people around me on my teams even tried to shelter me from a certain reality. On one side, as I look back today, I want to thank them. But from another perspective, I think that being protected like that didn’t really help me in the long term because it veiled me from reality. Dealing with such issues (i.e., racism) is complicated. It is difficult to see and hear. Perhaps my shoulders would not have been strong enough back then to support such things, and it would have affected my career. But perhaps I was poorly equipped to deal with what we are seeing today.
VN: Well during your own career you were the victim of racial slurs at least on two occasions during racing. The first during the 2014 Tour de France with Swiss rider Michael Albasini and the second during the 2017 Tour of Romandy, where there was an incident with Italian Gianni Moscon, who was immediately suspended by his team for six weeks. So it is not like you were immune to racism. Those were the most visible examples. But perhaps as a Black rider in the professional peloton, you have seen other forms of racism that are less evident?
KR: No, not really. Frankly, I feel like those incidents were really isolated. I don’t think that the majority of the peloton is racist…far from it! I really have not felt this “malaise” in the professional peloton today. Outside of those two isolated cases, I have never felt any discomfort because I am Black. I cannot say that the peloton or even a part of the peloton is racist—not at all! Outside of the two cases I’ve cited, the professional cycling world is very healthy. In the 10 years I have been professional I have never felt any negative feelings because of the color of my skin.
VN: Well cycling at the highest level is about performance. Teams firstly want riders that have the physical level to perform.
KR: Absolutely! If I had Chris Froome’s capacities, being Black would not prevent me from winning the Tour de France. I’ve been a professional for 10 years and had the career that I have had, as a result of my physical capacities. I know that I have the place in the peloton as a result of my physical capacities, not my skin color.
What shocks me most, really, is the state in which society is in around the world. Again, in my own world, I really don’t feel racism. But when I look around the world, it is evident the rules are not the same for everyone. And people are fed up! People are fed up with being denigrated. People are fed up with people being scared of us because we don’t have the same color of skin. It’s just “Nul!” We are citizens like everyone else. We have our jobs like everyone else. We pay our taxes like everyone else. And in 2020 I don’t see why society does not advance. Again, it is like we take one step forward and two steps backward. It’s just inconceivable.
Personally, I am asking myself, just what I can do at my level to help the situation. I am not a rock star in the sport. I have a lot fewer followers than LeBron James! I have ultimate respect for what he is doing. He doesn’t back down, but I don’t have that kind of visibility, that kind of impact. And right now, I am trying to figure out the best way for me, Kevin Reza, to contribute in a positive way. I am really trying to figure that out. It is important to pick the right path.